How Important Is Doctrine? – Part 2
by Jonathan Hamilton
We’ve been talking about the importance of doctrine. Right doctrine results in right practice and right love for God. But you have to have right doctrine to get either. Think of doctrine not as the endgame for Christians (even a good fundamentalist doesn’t argue that it is), but as the fuel that gets us there: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might. No doctrine, no fuel.
We are embarking now on our trek through five different genres of Scripture to see what the Bible has to say about the connection between doctrine (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy) and love (orthopathy). We will cover three of those genres today.
LAW: Deuteronomy 6
This seems like a pretty good place to start. What is the significance of Deuteronomy 6? It contains the great Shema, the most revered passage in all of the OT to a Jew. It is prominently located at the center of a Jewish prayer book. More significantly, it is the text Jesus referred to when asked by a lawyer what was the greatest commandment of all (Mk. 12:28-30). Important indeed.
Why is it relevant to the question at hand? Because it shows us exactly how important doctrine, practice, and love all are in connection to one another. And it does so in the context of the greatest commandment of God. In verses 4-5 God says this:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Is this victory for the “all love no doctrine” position? Look at it. All He says is “Love me with all of you.” So love wins, right?
Allow me to prod a bit. How would we know that this is the foremost commandment if God had not told us in His Word? What do we call it when God tells us something in His Word? One of the things we call that is doctrine. It is precisely the doctrines found in Deuteronomy 6 that tell us Who we ought to love, and how we ought to love Him. But there’s more. Let’s read a few more verses (6-9):
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
I think we could accurately paraphrase it this way without doing harm to the text: “The doctrines that I am commanding you today will be at the very center of your life. You will tirelessly persevere in teaching them to your children. You will talk of them faithfully all through the day, no matter what you are doing. They will permeate your life and home.” Love, obedience (practice), and knowledge (doctrine) are inseparably bound up together in this paramount command of Scripture. Love. Practice. Doctrine. They are not to be separated. And truly, they cannot be separated without harming our ability to fulfill our most fundamental obligation: to love the one true God with all of our being. Doctrine is central to our lives.
POETRY: Psalm 119
What better place to find out how God views doctrine than the chapter that spends 176 verses talking about it? “Doctrine? But Psalm 119 is all about Scripture!” you might object. Yep.
Let me place some sample verses before you for observation. Verse 11:
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You.
Again, let’s try to respectfully and accurately summarize the truth stated here: treasuring doctrine is necessary in order to not sin. Or the negative implication: if you neglect to treasure doctrine, you will sin more. Let this sink in: It is not merely about knowing doctrine. It’s certainly not about toying with doctrine as if it were a hobby. It’s about treasuring it. If killing sin is not enough motivation for us to love doctrine, we need to stop reading online articles and fall on our knees in front of an open Bible while asking God to forgive us for neglecting His Word. We need to beg Him to change us.
You still might be objecting at this point: “Why do you keep confusing God’s Word with doctrine? They’re not the same thing.” I reply, God’s Word is doctrinal in its very nature! Every doctrine we hold dear as Christians must be firmly rooted in Scripture. We don’t invent doctrines and take them to the Word, our doctrines spring forth from the Word itself. Doctrines are based on and driven by Scripture. Doctrines are summaries of what we find taught in Scripture. Doctrines are often our way of saying, “This is what the Bible is teaching in this particular passage of Scripture.” This is the whole idea that sermons are built on, along with creeds, and confessions, and doctrinal statements. It is self-evident that true doctrine and Scripture are inextricably bound together, for you cannot have any true doctrine apart from Scripture. Doctrine is so inseparable from Scripture that you cannot possibly read the Bible without being inundated by wave after wave after wave of pure, clean, life-giving doctrine. Treasure doctrine! The stakes are this high: to deny true doctrine is necessarily to deny the Scripture from which it is derived.
I will give you a few more verses without commenting. The truths ought to be obvious.
97 O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
116 Sustain me according to Your word, that I may live;
And do not let me be ashamed of my hope.
129 Your testimonies are wonderful;
Therefore my soul observes them.
133 Establish my footsteps in Your word,
And do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.
147 I arise before dawn and cry for help;
I wait for Your words.
148 My eyes anticipate the night watches,
That I may meditate on Your word.
152 Of old I have known from Your testimonies
That You have founded them forever.
160 The sum of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.
165 Those who love Your law have great peace,
And nothing causes them to stumble.
WISDOM: Proverbs 19
Three verses from this chapter, I’ll keep my comments brief:
16 He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul,
But he who is careless of conduct will die.
20 Listen to counsel and accept discipline,
That you may be wise the rest of your days.
27 Cease listening, my son, to discipline,
And you will stray from the words of knowledge.
I am going to draw a correlation between the “commandment,” the “counsel” and “discipline,” and the “words of knowledge.” Here are my questions on these verses: How will you keep the commandment and avoid death if you do not know the commandment (16)? What type of person do you think will offer you the best counsel and loving discipline, the man who knows the doctrines of God’s Word or the guy who ignores them because he “just wants to love God more” (20)? Where do you think you will find the “words of knowledge”? I hope the answers are rhetorical.
Doctrine is vital. It is life-giving. It is God’s Word that explains to us the doctrines of right practice and right love. We ignore doctrine at our own peril, and the peril of those affected by our lives and ministries.
In Part 3, we will look at some genres in the New Testament to further drive this point home.